Calf shelters made out of repurposed materials easy on calves, pocketbook |

Calf shelters made out of repurposed materials easy on calves, pocketbook

Keeping new calves out of the weather can be an important part of keeping them healthy. However, it is also important to make sure the shelters are moved and/or cleaned occasionally to prevent the spread of disease. Photo by Robyn Goddard

Calving season is in full swing for many ranchers, and although the first signs of spring mean hopefully mean winter weather is on its way out, it’s good to be prepared for those snowy, windy or cold, rainy days.

While there are many calf shelters on the market today, cattlemen can save a buck or two by creating their own from old materials. Whether it’s repurposing an old school bus, using an oilfield tank or flipping over a grain wagon, these frugal ranchers share their innovative ideas for repurposing unused items into new calf shelters.

“We use old steel oil tanks and cut them in half,” said Colt Floyd, a rancher near Ludlow. “We weld skids underneath them, so they are easy to move around the ranch.”

Floyd runs a company called Ace In The Hole Construction that frequently contracts with the oilfield companies.

“We do a lot of service work out in the oil fields, so we are able to purchase the old tanks from them,” said Floyd. “The tanks are about 12 feet wide and 20 feet long, and I sell them for around $1,500.”

Using a boom truck, Floyd will haul these massive oil tank shelters to his customers, and with a loader tractor, the rancher can them move them through the pasture as needed.

“We have built a lot of stuff from repurposed materials like free-standing panels and windbreak panels from oil field sucker rod,” said Floyd. “With the calf shelters, we think they are pretty reasonably priced, and they don’t blow away. You don’t have to anchor them down at all for them to stay put.”

Ranchers can check out Floyd’s metalwork at

For Josey Johnson, a rancher from Zap, N.D., a by-product from her husband’s employer, Ottertail Power Company — a local coal-fired plant — has been a great resource for building small calf shelters to place around the ranch.

“My husband works at a coal plant, and they get lots of white chemical containers that we use a lot,” said Johnson. “The plant goes through 25 of these containers each week, and employees are allowed to take what they want. We clean them out really well, cut open one side, bolt them all together in a line and bed them with straw.”

Each spring, the Johnsons power-wash the containers, and since they are a manageable size, she says they are very easy to clean.

“With just four bolts, two on top and two on bottom with washers, we are able to bolt them onto wind breaks all over the ranch,” she said.

A quick Facebook poll revealed other creative ideas ranchers have implemented over the years.

Midland, S.D., rancher Scott Jones says he uses an old pickup box topper. Dawn Nagel from Gettysburg, S.D., uses old fuel tanks.

“We use two old silage wagons turned upside down,” said Jim Larson, a rancher from Sioux Rapids, Iowa. “They will hold about 20 calves.”

Becky Rose, a rancher from Chamberlain, S.D., said, “We use broken down feed wagons tipped upside down, and we torch a doorway out of the side.”

“We use old grain bins, repurpose the bottom half for other things and utilize the top half by torching out a door for the calves, which creates a perfect little dome for them,” said Macey Kriens, a rancher from Dell Rapids, S.D. “It makes a great wind break for calves with minimal labor input!”

Other ideas included big culverts cut in half, a VW bug, a windbreak cone from the top of a semi-truck, old chicken coops, dump wagons, bushel bins cut in half, round bales stacked in a circle with an old grain bin roof stacked on top, tarps over a dog kennel, gravel truck box or an old bi-fold door.

Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas for a calf shelter is an old school bus, with several ranchers praising its dual purpose.

“A school bus is awesome as we can adjust the windows depending on the weather and wind,” said Sara Kuschel, a rancher near Nimrod, Minn. “We have also used old barn tin to make some portable shelters with attached windbreaks for the cows.”

Cam Fagerhaug, a rancher from Wessington Springs, S.D., added, “We’ve used school buses as both calf shelters and semen tank haulers. It also serves as a tour bus when big groups come to visit. My dad has simply piled up tons and tons of dead trees and used that as shelter too! We leave the cabs on the bus and the calves enter through the door where the kids would!”

Being prepared for the brutal winter weather during calving season is important. However, with calves hunkering down in sometimes small, cramped calf shelters, maintaining a healthy environment is critical to avoid problems like scours.

“Shelters are a wonderful tool to keep calves safe during a storm,” said April Schilder, DVM, from Faulkton, S.D. “However, I see and deal with on a daily basis the downside of calf shelters. The congregation of calves often leads to congregation of disease. The worst one is scours. These things can be like a scour factory when they are not properly maintained. They need to be cleaned or moved frequently, and when the weather is nice — gated off.”

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